Sunday, March 1, 2015

Home Recording Tip 50: In music production give moments where one thing takes center stage. Let the scene change

Time for a change

This tip and the next are from a few lessons I’ve learned from Chris Lord-Alge. And one of them, rather painfully.  


Back in my LA days I worked on TV show called “The Heights.” It was about a mythical band in the Pacific Northwest and their adventures in trying to make it. I was recording and mixing the music for the show and was soon to begin mixing a subsequent album. It was pretty much rock-pop stuff, and a lot of the music was pretty good. One of the songs in the show was “How Do You Talk To An Angel” which ended up as a #1 Billboard hit.


There’s an interesting story about how the song got to be #1. As the show was on FOX, their marketing crew had previews for it running in movie theaters across the country. “How Do You Talk to an Angel” was the musical bed to the preview and theater-goers liked it so much they began cheering and clapping when it came on the screen. Soon radio stations began to get calls to have it played on the air. Well, it wasn’t long before we got a call to get a mix of it out NOW! That of course shifted everything in the mix schedule for the album. Not surprisingly, the A&R guy from the label wanted Chris to mix it. I begged the producer to give me a fair shot and let mix it as well. Then he and the A&R guy could choose which mix they preferred.   


Now if you ever find yourself in such a situation, you must remember a few things. One, the big mixer you’re competing against has a track record, so you’re already at a disadvantage.  The fact is ESPECIALLY people in the major labels rarely use only their ears to make a decision on mixes. Guys at the labels are always in jeopardy with their job, so when in doubt, they’ll take the safest choice. After all, if the song is a flop, their boss can’t accuse them of not hiring a good mixer. And what if the unknown guy’s mix was better and they used it, but it wasn’t a hit? Then they’d look like an idiot. The labels don’t care about how good a mix is. They just care if it sells. But even if it WAS a hit, the question they’d face would then be, “Why’d you spend all that money on a mix you didn’t use? All to say I knew if my mix was to be selected over Chris’ it would have to be MUCH better than his. But even that didn’t guarantee anything. So I knew the odds were against me even before I started.


Still I did get my chance. When the mix was done the A&R guy came over for a listen right after hearing Chris’ mix. He was a very fine A&R guy with a great track record, and to his credit it wasn’t just a polite, courtesy listen. He sat down with me and really paid attention to what I’d done. “This is really good,” He said. “I gotta say these mixes are a lot closer than I thought they’d be. I think yours is more musical” as he nodded approvingly.  

Well, of course in the end they picked Chris’ mix. And I gotta say his mix was better. One thing which really separated his mix from mine is what Chris did in the instrumental bridge. There was this arpeggiated electric guitar part which he really pushed and made it a feature. In my mix it wasn’t buried, but I didn’t make a big deal out of it like Chris did. There may have been other things he did better, but that was the one big comment about his mix and for sure it made his mix better than mine. He made a real moment of that section and it made a huge difference. Of course I offered to remix my mix and do the same, but the decision had already been made. Lesson learned!

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